Over 10,000 Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi Holy Day with Parade in California
April 11, 2004
Some Sikhs, who traditionally wear turbans and do not cut their hair, said discrimination against them that began just after the 2001 terror
attacks continues. They said the parade was partly intended to explain their religion to the public.
"We've always been a very quiet community," said Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, executive director of the California Sikh Council. "But that hurt us since 9-11 because people don't know who we are, so we're trying to reach out more."
Organizers said more than 10,000 Sikhs from across Southern California were in the city to celebrate Vaisakhi -- which marks their New Year and commemorates the 17th century Sikh leader Guru Gobind Singh.
In downtown Los Angeles, marchers chanted "God is One", as they walked through the streets amid flower strewn floats with scenes from Sikh history. Among the floats was one depicting the Golden Temple, a symbol of tolerance and acceptance and the most sacred temple for the faithful.
As he walked along the parade, Daljit Khokhar, 43, of Burbank said he often fields questions about his turban and religion. "We explain it to the people. They are always asking me, but it's getting better," said Khokhar, an employee of The Gas Company of Southern California.
At a press conference earlier in the day, Assemblywoman Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, said Sikhs have been the target of hate crimes by extremists in the United States who mistake them for being from the Middle East.
"We must be more even more proactive in fighting this," said Chu, whose resolution condemning hate crimes against Sikhs, Arab-Americans and others has been approved by the Assembly.
Chu and U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, said that in Fresno, a Sikh temple was defaced early last month with hate graffiti that included racial slurs and obscenities. It had also been targeted last year for five nights in a row in vandalism of paint and firecrackers that sparked a blaze.
Khalsa, who said he was told to "get that rag off your head" while pumping gas in Sacramento last week, worries attacks against Sikhs will surge again if there is another terror attack in the United States.
"We're fighting against the clock here to make people understand who we are," he said.
Perdeep Bhui, a 29-year-old environmental engineer from Simi Valley, said she had attended several rallies since 2001 in an effort to tell non-Sikhs about her religion.
"People still need to be educated," Bhui said.
Sikhism was founded in the 15th century in reaction to the Hindu caste system and preaches worship of one God, equality of all races and equality of men and women.
It claims about 20 million followers worldwide, and most trace their ancestry to the Punjab area now divided between Pakistan and India.